Contributing writer for Wake Up World
blame | bl?m | verb [with object] assign responsibility for a fault or wrong
Nobody likes to be “blamed.” But do we truly take issue with blame, or with the accountability blame seeks? By examining what blame means, we see there’s no harm in it. More likely, we don’t like being accountable or taking responsibility. Why might this be so?
Emotional maturity is marked by admitting our faults, acknowledging what’s most likely true, changing our minds, making amends, correcting behavior, and working on ourselves to heal the roots of our shortcomings. Awareness and self-honesty begin the process of this self-reflection, and both are hallmarks of emotional intelligence. Without them, we go nowhere. We just create more war, hurt, and disharmony.
Unfortunately, many unconsciously equate accountability with shame. “I made a mistake” becomes “I am a bad person.” That’s mistaking accountability (taking responsibility for a mistake or poor judgment) for worthlessness (I am bad and a POS for doing so), which is a misperception and a possible sign of past wounding clouding the present. If this happens, we can undo it this way: a) acknowledge our misperception b) act as though we are not bad and worthless c) work with the roots of shame, via grief work and affirmations, to heal our sense of worthlessness.
Blame in Action
Have you ever tried to engage in reconciliation by expressing your feelings or calling someone out on their actions, only to be made wrong for doing so? Let’s take a look at how blame blames blame:
Say Pat hurts Jan. Jan might respond: “Hey, that hurts. Can you see how condescending me is hurtful?” If Pat can’t take responsibility for being hurtful, to deflect the blame from Jan he might say (ironically and hypocritically, mind you) that Jan is wrongly casting blame by expressing his feelings and calling out an injury. Pat deflects accountability even though Jan was originally hurt by Pat’s actions. This is classic emotional immaturity and denial by Pat.
At the end of the day, Pat has to be willing to look at himself with intellectual and emotional honesty. If what Jan says is true, a healthy response from Pat can look like: “I hear that I hurt you and I see what I did was hurtful. I’m sorry for hurting you.” From there Pat could go on expressing other insights into what he did and how he might try to do better. Prior emotional work would allow Pat to do this sincerely.
Even if Jan’s blaming of Pat wasn’t so graceful, Pat’s taking responsibility is the sustainable choice. And Jan can also learn how to communicate more effectively and in a way that Pat can hear it. With this said, some focus entirely on criticizing the delivery of blame (accountability-seeking) to avoid taking responsibility; this is another form of denial. But a healthy person genuinely interested in connection and care might consider denying himself valuable growth just because another was imperfect or even rude by calling his/her attention to the shortcoming.
Truth-telling and NVC
Giving and receiving blame means we agree with some degree of right and wrong. Most readers here will agree it’s wrong to abuse others, to destroy the Earth, and to discriminate against others different from ourselves. NVC (non-violent communication) is one way to express our feelings without attributing blame or judgment (neither of which are necessarily pejorative, mind you).
NVC is a helpful strategy, especially when disagreement escalates and erodes empathy. Other times, when consensus wrong behavior has occurred, NVC doesn’t suffice to address egregious behavior and rightfully condemn it. Nor does it do justice to well-placed, appropriate anger. It walks on too many eggshells.
Therefore, a combination of NVC and calling out injustice covers more bases when personal feelings are involved and when violating behavior has occurred. In other words, it’s not enough to merely express our feelings about political corruption and big business greed, rape, and ecocide. We have to call it out and condemn it.
I therefore have found NVC inadequate to resolve some forms of conflict and also unsatisfactory for truth-telling. NVC in conjunction with blame seems to cover more bases—we can both express our feelings and criticize violating behavior. When push comes to shove, most of us have beliefs of right and wrong, even if we assert we don’t.
Blame Is Not to Blame
There’s nothing wrong with blame that asks for accountability and invokes amends, unless we are blaming someone inaccurately. This is why it’s good to get the facts straight before making assumptions and accusing. Doing so requires withholding immediate emotional reaction and expressing ourselves “in the moment.” We should blame others—as gracefully as possible—when accountability is called for.
If you’re more comfortable with the phrase “hold others accountable” instead of “blame” that’s fine. But blame should not get the bad rap it does. It’s actually an opportunity for more harmonious relations and being a better person. To enter this crucible of healing, all we have to do is practice seeing ourselves honestly to discover if what we’re being blamed for is accurate. Then we can make amends, explore what causes us to act as we do, and transform as we need to.
Being blamed can also trigger guilt. Yet there’s nothing wrong with guilt either, unless it turns into shaming, toxic self-condemnation. Guilt has life-saving and soul-enriching qualities. It’s also important to recognize the difference between guilt and shame. Shame says, “I am a bad person,” while guilt communicates, “I’ve done something inappropriate or hurtful.” I discuss more of the dynamics of guilt and shame here.
Blame also invokes criticism. Somehow we believe it’s not appropriate to criticize others. There are definitely instances when this is true and untactful. But criticism generally is akin to blame; done respectfully and without shaming, criticism helps us see our faults and become better people. I discuss the value of criticism here.
The Moon of Our Better Selves
All this is to say that being blamed and taking responsibility go hand-in-hand. Accountability for ourselves and seeing ourselves honestly requires we integrate a slew of other emotions. Many of these emotions trigger childhood wounds we would rather not look at, such as abuse, unworthiness, neglect, and abandonment. These hidden love wounds (often from being shamed) are often what cause us to rail against blame, criticism, and feeling guilty. Once we embrace these wounds, however, we can better tolerate feeling guilty as well as being criticized and blamed. Noticing when our unconscious material has been stirred, we can step back from reacting, hear what’s been shared, and tend to old patterns.
This is why emotional work is so important to becoming a caring person. It allows us to address the unconscious aspects of our behavior, acknowledge when we’ve hurt someone, make amends, and stop waging war on innocent others. While none of us is perfect, we can often do better. Sometimes an “I’m sorry” is all that’s needed to soften hearts and let compassion flow.
Yet, perhaps you’ve noticed that saying the simple words, “I’m sorry,” is not so easy for many. It’s a confession of wrongdoing and requires healthy humility. Even though there’s nothing wrong with being wrong—just as there’s no blame in blame—if we harbor shame and abuse issues, especially about being wrong or feeling worthless, we will likely have to confront our pasts if we want to take accountability as well as make heartfelt amends and have more harmony.
It’s much easier to blame the blamer for calling out our shortcomings. But blame is not to blame! Healthy adults should be able to express and receive healthy blame for inappropriate actions. It’s revolutionary to take responsibility where accountability is due. Blame points us to the moon of our better selves.
Recommended articles by Jack Adam Weber:
- The Modern Shaman: Fierce Love at the Frontier of Madness
- When We Love an Addict – Courage and the Limits of Compassion
- Arrogance in Relationships: How to Deal With and Heal It
- ReVOLUTION: When Enough is Enough
- Sex – Truth and Dare, Pleasure and Purpose
- Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave
- Yin Yang — Ancient Wisdom for Personal and Planetary Transformation
- Heartbreak – Loving Ourselves Through Difficult Times
- Grief-Work: Healing the Shadows of Trauma and Pain
- Do We Really Create Our Own Reality? The Myths and Dangers of New Age Belief
About the author:
Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., M.A., is a Chinese medicine physician, having graduated valedictorian of his class in 2000. He has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. Weber is an activist for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, mind-body integration, and climate change, all the while challenging his readers to think and act outside the box. His latest creation is the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, embodied meditation practice as well as an educational guide for healing the wounds of childhood. His work can be found at jackadamweber.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter, where he can also be contacted for medical consultations and life-coaching. His new book on how to cope with climate change will be released in early 2020.